A special joint-session of the legislature was held in the House chamber Friday in response to the recent crises caused from this week’s storm. Officials wanted to explain Governor Tomblin’s State of Emergency declaration and to update lawmakers about current conditions and what they can tell their constituents affected by the storm.
Heavy rains began earlier this week that soon turned to heavy snow. Flooding and power outages have been huge problems in many parts of the state, and especially in some southern counties.
Peter Marcum, General Counsel to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, reminded legislators of some of the different possibilities that could occur during a Governor’s declared State of Emergency. Marcum says the Governor may decide to evacuate residents, provide temporary housing, declare disaster zones, suspend the sale of alcohol or explosives, and may even close schools.
“It’s important that you look at each particular state of emergency declaration, because each emergency is unique, and the governor, the legislature, the local emergency service providers will be offering specific guidance to deal with the emergency,” Marcum said.
Last year, the legislature passed a governor’s bill that required a state of preparedness for emergencies and situations like the current winter storm.
Peter Marcum says this has allowed first responders to act quickly in light of this storm.
“Thanks to a governor’s bill that this body passed last year, we now have the power to declare a state of preparedness," Marcum explained, "This enables the governor to exercise all of his emergency powers well in advance of an eminent emergency, so that we can marshal resources, put them in place in preparation of problems. It also allows us to warn the public, you need to be on high alert, because a severe winter storm’s coming.”
Major General James A. Hoyer with the West Virginia National Guard says the state of preparedness has helped to get a head start on the crisis.
“From the standpoint of my role and our responsibility as the National Guard, what you provided us last year with the state of preparedness; I think it’s important to understand the benefit to our ability to respond and to the National Guardsmen," Hoyer said, "By allowing us to move in early, it allows us to put men and women in place ahead of time that makes the response more effective in the front end, which hopefully reduces the time and the cost on the backend.”
This morning in the 20th district in Mingo County, there was a mudslide that left many residents trapped. Delegate Justin Marcum says he’s very concerned for his constituents in his home district.
“I’ve talked to county commissioner, John Mark Hubbard and Greg Kody Smith, they’re on the ground," Delegate Marcum explained, "We’re working now to implement the National Guard. We’re trying to bring in other resources. I will praise our county commission; they’ve done a great job with these in the past and moving forward. We’re just praying for these individuals that are trapped with the mudslide. Yeah, we have around fifty people trapped; we have boats and dozers that will be going in. The issue is with the trap, where it’s trapped, the mudslide is coming in, the water is rising. Most places, the water’s receding, but we’ve got the water’s rising here, and that’s our main concern, so the evacuation process is ongoing. Luckily, praise God, we have no injuries at this point.”
Delegate Lynne Arvon of Raleigh County oversees the 31st District, which has seen a lot of water outages in the last few days. She says her district has been declared a disaster area.
"The portion of Route 3 that is in my district, District 31, goes down Route 3 and to the Boone County line, has been declared a disaster area," Arvon said, "We now have two deployments of the National Guard in that area, and they are able, people who are stuck in their homes and can’t get out, their roads have been washed out, whatever the cause may be, they can call the emergency services number, which I have put on my House of Delegate page, and the National Guard will be sent to get them. They will go on foot and get them, or deliver water or whatever needs they have.”
After the presentation, Speaker Tim Armstead reminded members as they deal with constituents' troubles related to the storm, have them turn to local sources of assistance rather than going straight to the state to address their needs.
“I think it’s very important as my discussions with each of you is to just reiterate that when you have constituents that do have needs, whatever those needs are, I think you start with that local, rather than trying to go up to the state level immediately with, when they’re trying to, to get all these things handled from the various counties to go through your county originally is very important. And I know each of us have had, unfortunately flooding and other situations in our districts.” - House Speaker Tim Armstead
Governor Tombin’s State of Emergency continues with updates as weather and flooding in the state continue to be addressed.